I finished The Swimmers a few weeks ago and needed some time to let it simmer. Because it is so different from most that I tend to pick up, it was a bit tricky for me to decide my final feelings on it. I went with a neutral 3 star rating because, while I didn’t love this book, I also didn’t hate it.
I really, really enjoyed the first half of this book. I loved hearing about the different nuances of each of the swimmers, about how they carve out time in their day to day to spend some time underground in the water. I thought it was really beautifully written, with lovely descriptions and lyrical prose. I found myself wanting to know more about each of the characters, and also relating to it as someone who has spend many miles in a pool swimming with other strangers. We recognize one another, we know the others exist, we have casual conversation, but we never really KNOW one another. So, for the first half the book, I was extremely entertained and engrossed.
Then, the second half. This description of life for someone with severe memory loss (I believe it was Alzheimer’s, but again, it has been a few weeks since I finished it) was heartbreaking and eye opening. As someone who lost a grandparent with Alzheimer’s, I found it intriguing but also painful.
My issue, however, wasn’t with the first half of the book or the second half of the book. It was the book as a whole being published as ONE book. It felt like two books to me – or two essays pushed together into one when it should’ve just stayed as two. If I had to describe the book in one word, it would be disjointed – with the first half being entertaining/engrossing, the second heavy and heartbreaking, evoking strong emotion. It made for an incredibly unbalanced reading experience for me, and also had me wondering if I had forgotten something with the narrative as I moved into the second half. Like did I miss the part where the author explained something crucial? No, I didn’t – the perspective shift was just so drastic that I had whiplash.
Overall, I do think this book will be a big win for those who enjoy this style of storytelling – emotional, heavy, and slow paced.